Not too long ago, Christianity Today surveyed thousands of people to find out the top books that shaped the American Christian mind during the 20th century. Number three was C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Next came Prayer: How to Have a Conversation with God by Rosalind Rinker. But the most influential book caught my eye.
It was Understanding Church Growth by Donald A. McGavran. I think that this is telling.
We have an obsession in American Church culture with massive church growth. We love seeing our congregation numbers explode. And so for many churches, they have expanded their “offerings” to allow as many people as possible the opportunity to see something that will allow them to get plugged in. It started in the 60s and 70s: add as many ministries as you can to make room for as many people as you can find.
It becomes like a restaurant menu. You walk into a church and you can see all of the things that the church will let you be involved in: Sunday morning services. Sunday night book studies. Monday night Evangelism Explosion. Wednesday night Bible Study. VBS. AWANA. Quarterly events.
None of these things are bad things, but they are all things that stretch the average churchgoer’s attention between three or four things that aren’t necessarily related to one another. What they end up creating is a consumer mindset: come to church, survey the different things they offer, pick the things that work for you, and go about your weekly life.
What also ends up happening is a whole lot of horizontal motion—moving people from one activity to the next—when what we really want is vertical motion—moving people from one level in their spiritual journey to a deeper level.
If spiritual maturity is what you want from your congregation, perhaps it’s time to try something different.If spiritual maturity is what you want from your congregation, perhaps it’s time to try something different. Click To Tweet
The Map vs the Menu
God is a walker. When Jesus called His disciples, He didn’t say, “Alright. We’ve got preaching, miracle working, evangelism, discipleship, community ministry, and exorcism: pick the stuff you’re most interested in. I hope to see you soon!”
Instead, He said, “Come walk with me.” It’s the same thing God did with Adam in the Garden. It’s the same thing He said to Abraham. “Come walk with me.”
Instead of offering a menu of services that you want your members to choose from, offer them steps to a destination you want to see them reach. At Long Hollow, we want to see every believer become a disciple who makes disciplemakers. So we’ve implemented a pathway—a map—to help get them there.
First, we want them to Know God by encountering, learning about, and worshipping Him with fellow believers in a weekly worship service.
Then, we want them to Find Community in a Life Group where they can dive deep into the passage they heard preached, eat together, pray together, and serve together.
As they mature, we want them to Make Disciples in smaller groups of three to five, where they will practice reading and memorizing scripture, holding each other accountable, and learning how to help other people do the same.
As more believers do this, we believe that it will Change the World as the holistic process of Discipleship—which entails both evangelism and disciplemaking—spreads like wildfire all across the world.
What’s beautiful about this is that everybody who walks through our doors, no matter who they are and no matter what step of their spiritual journey they’re on, is on the pathway somewhere. While we still get to put on fun events and we still get to have special times together, we are focused on moving people not from one siloed ministry to another but deeper in their walk with the Lord.
Love him or hate him, when Nick Saban trains his players, he tells them to “Trust the process.” Certain drills he puts them through or techniques he teaches may not make sense in the moment, but he tells them to trust the process anyway—and his record has certainly reflected that the process works.
The same goes for the church. We’re not doing something new and revolutionary at Long Hollow; we’re simply following the process that Jesus set in motion two thousand years ago. Trust the process. If we as a Church—not my church, not your church, but the whole church—can move people from simply knowing who God is to being a disciple who makes disciples, the world will be set on fire with the Gospel of Jesus.